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Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Right Can't Fight the Future

"It seems axiomatic that the past and the future cannot exist at the same time. Thanks to the space-time continuum, people from different centuries cannot live simultaneously. The same goes for a nation, which cannot survive pulling toward the future and toward the past at once.

The United States is at a fulcrum. We are two countries—one lurching for the future, one yearning for the past—that cannot live together, because we can’t be both things. Donald Trump may have brought on the breaking point, but he didn’t create the schism. It was already there for him to exploit. It was there during enslavement, when President Lincoln declared that the country could not survive half slave, half free, and it took a civil war to force these two nations: one brutal but pastoral, the other urban and focused on finance and technological innovation, often with its own kind of cruelty, to remain under one roof.

Today, Trump is speeding us toward decline—the very decline his supporters so feared. His imperious leadership; his family’s grubby pretense at royalty and the apparent mad dash among members of his cabinet and White House team to hawk their positions for cash and luxuries have the feel of a decrepit regime looting the palace in its final days; stuffing the silver in their coats as they flee into exile.

Trump’s announcement of anachronistic trade tariffs this week was portrayed as out of the blue, but it was no such thing. Trump ran on ending multilateral trade agreements and recreating an America of the distant past that culls every human and material resource from within. Republicans who are now in full blown freakout over a potential trade war voted for exactly what they’re getting.

In every way, Donald Trump is a president built for the past; a benighted, late 19th Century figure who spun his supporters a tale that he could restore a bygone era when coal fires burned, factories hummed, steel mills belched out soot and opportunity and a (white) man with a sturdy back, a high school diploma and a song in his heart could buy a little house, marry a little wife and have 3 cherry-cheeked kids he didn’t ever have to cook or clean for, plus if he can afford it, a hot mistress on the side. Trump is the slovenly but brash, gold-plated emblem of a time when in the imagination of his followers, black women hummed a tune while they cleaned your house or did the washing, black men tipped their hat on the street but didn’t dare look you in the eye, and neither would dream of moving in next door. A time when women asked their husbands for an allowance, not their boss for a promotion, men were “allowed to be men” complete with ribald jokes and a slap on the fanny for the pretty secretary at work, and there were no gays, no trans people, no birth control … they somehow just didn’t exist! The rural folks were the salt of the earth and we only let in “a certain kind of immigrant” whose only goal was to shake off his ethnicity and “assimilate.” Everyone went to (separate) church on Sundays and everyone “got along.” It’s a plasticine world that for many must feel like it truly existed, though of course it never did.

Going backward, to a world without ambiguity on race, gender and work is a powerfully attractive idea, particularly for those who fear losing their cultural and social hegemony as the nation browns, and their economic ascendancy as technology creates new industries they scarcely understand.

But here’s the thing: the past really is past. Coal is still a dying industry and America will never again have an industrial revolution. It’s other countries’ turn to do that now. Black and brown people aren’t giving up our dignity, including the right to protest and to survive mundane encounters with police. Immigrants aren’t going away (and in fact we need them to keep the economy and the safety net flush). LGBT people aren’t going back into the closet. And women are staying in the workforce, with many aiming to become the CEO, while insisting on hanging onto our reproductive liberty. There is indeed a sizable minority of Americans who want to go back to the old times. But we aren’t going back..."

The Right Can't Fight the Future

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